Earlier today, I wrote a post in defense of New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel.
To summarize the article, I said that I thought he made the right move by bringing in his closer in a save situation this weekend. I also defended him against claims made by another writer on this site about him being the "stupidest man in baseball." You can read my original post by clicking here.
It got me thinking some more about how often pulling a starter from a strong outing had actually hurt the Mets. The results astounded me. Even though I like to look at performances as well as results, the cold hard fact is that the Mets have won almost nine out of every 10 games when Manuel has called on his bullpen in this kind of role.
Let's look at the numbers.
In Manuel's time with New York, the team is 63-24 in games where their starting pitcher has thrown at least seven innings and allowed no more than two earned runs.
Those 63 wins include three complete games and six more shutouts, meaning that on 78-of-87 occasions, Manuel has gone to his bullpen despite a relatively strong outing from his starter.
Sometimes, it seems easy to justify his decision, like when Nelson Figueroa needed 126 pitches to get through seven innings against the Braves last season. He had only allowed two runs on a pair of hits, but he was spent, and there was no way he was going to pitch a complete game that day.
Other times, it seems somewhat bizarre, like when Johan Santana was working on a two-hitter through seven innings with 10 strikeouts against the Phillies, only to be yanked after 101 pitches.
Either way you look at it, the statistics show that when a Mets starter finishes his seventh inning of work with two or fewer earned runs, Manuel will pull him 89.7 per cent of the time.
Of those games when the bullpen was asked to take over, the Mets won 54 of their 78 games, or 69.2 percent. That doesn't even consider whether the Mets had the lead, were losing, or locked in a tie.
When Manuel took over midway through the 2008 season, the Mets were 16-3 in games where the bullpen was asked to protect a lead after the starter had gone at least seven innings with two or fewer earned runs.
That is not bad at all—in fact, it is outstanding—although fans don't remember the 16 games they won. They remember Luis Ayala giving up three runs in the ninth inning of a game against the Braves without recording an out. They remember Santana giving the Mets a 5-1 lead through eight innings only for the Phillies to rally for six runs in the ninth inning against the hapless quartet of Duaner Sanchez, Joe Smith, Feliciano, and Aaron Heilman.
Similarly, in 2009 fans do not remember the two innings of flawless work by Pedro Feliciano and K-Rod to preserve Santana's 1-0 lead against the Phillies at Citi Field. No, instead, they look to the bullpen costing Livan Hernandez an inter-league victory at Camden Yards against the Orioles and J.J. Putz costing Santana a win against the Marlins.
What is lost in all that is that those two defeats were the only times the Mets bullpen blew a game where the starter had gone seven innings, allowed two or fewer earned runs, and left with the lead. Those sceptical fans quick to pass judgement on Manuel and the Mets bullpen also forget the work of the bullpen that kept them in games against the Red Sox at Fenway and the Braves in Flushing when New York rallied to win games after Mike Pelfrey had left on the hook.
Those games, of course, get no attention, because the bullpen did their job. Had they capitulated, it would have been another matter.
And that then brings us back to 2010. The problem with the Mets this year hasn't been that their bullpen couldn't protect leads, it's that they have been unable to keep Mets in the close games when their starter has left in a tied game.
New York is 14-1 in games when their starter has gone seven innings, allowed two earned runs or fewer, and left with the lead.
It hasn't always been easy or pretty, as was the case on Saturday in San Francisco, but with the exception of Raul Valdes' 11th-inning meltdown against the Padres, the 'pen has done a fine job in these situations. Nervous? Yes. But they got the job done.
The bigger reason for concern is in the two games against Washington and the losses against Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Florida when a fine outing from a New York starter was lost by the relief corps. Then again, had the starters done a better job in the first place, maybe they would have handed Feliciano, Valdes, Mejia, Rodriguez, and Co. a lead.
The final conclusion to highlight is that the Mets are 48-6 in Manuel's tunure when he has turned to his bullpen to preserve a game the Mets were winning because of a fantastic start from a man in their rotation. That's a .888 winning percentage, or near-90 percent success rate.
You can bash Manuel for his decision-making all you want, but I love those odds.